"Rumors"

Aug. 14th, 2014 08:32 pm
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I have never been quiet about my bipolar diagnosis.  My family members know, my friends know, my coworkers (even my supervisor) know.  The one area where I've kept it secret is with my employer's HR department.  Until last week.

I do a combination of inventory control and quality assurance for a fulfillment center contracted by a major national brand.  I work 3-4 days per week, spending up to 12 hours per day at work.  This was all well and good when I was manic and had boundless energy (and needed virtually no sleep so I was able to do fun things in the evening), but once I sank into depression it became torture.  Actually, the job may have contributed to the depression.  My manic episode ended and I wasn't exactly depressed, but due to a series of unfortunate events I spent weeks working in extreme pain.  Also, my blood pressure was ridiculously high, which was not helping my stress level.

At any rate, depression + long work days = bad.  Depression + long work days where I don't know exactly how long they'll be and what I'll be doing that day = extra bad.  Depression plus long work days blahblahblah in which I sometimes have to spend all day on a task I loathe = unbearable.  It actually got to the point that my therapist wrote my supervisor a letter recommending that I not do that particular type of task.  I've done it much less since then, but recently it has been unavoidable.

Said therapist has highly encouraged me to find a new job, and by "encouraged" I mean "pressured to the point that I asked her to please stop".  Then I ended up in an unscheduled appointment with her the following day to tell her she was right.  It's been a few weeks since then, maybe about a month, and I have not made much progress in the job hunt.  I managed to write my first resume though, and baby steps are better than nothing.

Last week, the secret came out when I went to the HR department to see if they could suggest an alternate position in the company that may be more suited to my skill set and scheduling needs.  The HR rep I spoke with, who we'll call "Kara", came up with several possibilities.  None of them were ideal, but I made a very rational decision to apply for an available job at our other local warehouse.  The hours might actually be a bit worse in some ways, but it was the biggest change out of all the options and I figured if my life's not working I should make a radical change.

A few days later my supervisor hunted me down where I was working (on that task that causes me so much emotional distress) and said Kara wanted to speak with me.  I figured it was news about the job I applied for, but then he escorted me all the way to HR.  I was anxious, but had no idea what was about to happen.  Kara took me to the conference room, shut the door, and sat much closer to me than she did last time I was there.  She told me that the job I applied for had been filled by someone else.  I relaxed a little.

Then she dropped the bombshell.  She said that she'd heard some rumors that may or may not be true about things I was doing at work.  I knew exactly what she meant, but was terrified I was about to be fired and pretended I didn't know what she was talking about.  She said she wouldn't pry if I wasn't comfortable talking to her, and handed me a brochure for the Employee Assistance Program.

It took a few rounds of her saying she wasn't sure if it was true, but it finally sunk in that I was not going to be fired and I admitted that it was true that I injure myself, sometimes while at work.  She said she wished she knew how to help.  She went over the possible job alternatives again, including a new suggestion for one that would be available in a few months.  She told me I could come talk to her anytime.

Of course that meant I couldn't do it.  I have a tendency to drive people away somehow, and I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I couldn't let that happen with her.  There was something on my mind that she might be able to help with, but I kept it to myself for days.  Then this happened:

arm-writing

It's not as bad as it looks.  Last time I made such a list (on paper) it was much longer and I actually felt what I was writing.  Now I just feel blank.  Like maybe writing this would make me feel something.  Even if it was a bad feeling, it would be better than this inability to cry, to smile, to get angry.  It only made me feel a detached sort of worry that I would take the next step in trying to feel and do it in a way that would leave a scar.

I wasn't feeling that impulse yet, but knowing that I could led me to finally go see Kara.  I told her that one of the techniques I had learned to avoid injuring myself was to put ice on my wrists, but the only place to do that at work is in the break room, where security will come yell at me and make me leave if I walk in there outside what they think should be my break time.

In reality, my particular department is so small that we are allowed to take our breaks whenever we feel like it, as long as we spend the appropriate amount of time on break.  Also, the idea of me spending a few extra minutes "on break" is a lot better than spending those same minutes in the bathroom, crying or hurting myself.

Kara's response to the statement that security would yell at me was, "It's none of their business."  It may not be, but they've done it in the past and I told her as much.  So we now have an agreement that if I feel a need to go ice my wrists I will come see her and she will tell security I have permission to be in the break room.

So writing all over my arm led somewhere positive in the end, and although I was terrified by the idea of HR finding out about all this I'm starting to be thankful that someone spread those "rumors" in their direction.


Originally posted at http://stuffthatneedssaying.wordpress.com/2014/08/14/rumors/. Please comment there.
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This was originally posted on December 30, 2013 as a Facebook note. I have made a few minor edits from the original to improve some wording, but there's no change to the content.  It was with this post that I realized I might have a few things to say that others could benefit from reading, and so, after a bit of time to ponder potential content, this blog was born.

Image

The essence of this post has been on my mind for quite some time, but I keep hesitating about posting it. Because some people might be surprised. Because some people might make inaccurate assumptions. Because some people might recognize the anonymized versions of themselves and be offended. Or feel guilty. Or just generally hate that they are in the story even if nobody else will know it's them. The thing is, this really needs to be said, and it's more important than whatever probably irrational anxieties I have.

This summer, a television actor shot himself. It doesn't matter which one, as this has happened many times before, will unfortunately happen many times again, and the reactions always seem to be the same: "But so many people loved him!", "But nobody knew there was anything wrong!" My reaction to these reactions is always: "Maybe no one told him.", "Maybe no one was listening." Hard to believe with the famous actor? Okay, so fill it in with "a boy from my school" or "a woman I work with". It might still be a little hard to believe, as you may be that person who admired the boy's articulate answers in literature class, or always saw how chipper the woman was when she arrived at work in the morning. Did you compliment that boy? Did you ask that woman how she was doing and genuinely want an answer, not just "I'm great, and you?"?

Humans do not just get a hangnail and decide to kill themselves over it. Maybe that hangnail (real or metaphorical) happens, maybe it's even the very last in a long string of things going wrong before the suicide actually takes place, but suicide happens when there's simply no hope left at all. Do you realize how long it takes to completely lose hope? Do you realize what tiny acts can reignite it? Sometimes people have struggled with depression or other mental illnesses for years - decades even - before all the hope is gone. Sometimes, life circumstances simply are bad enough to create depression that wouldn't otherwise exist. Either way, we're all fighting to survive another day, and some of us are just losing the fight.

I do not remember life before depression. It sounds overly dramatic, but it's the truth. I didn't always have a word for it, but I can look back to at least middle school and see it with that amazing 20/20 hindsight. This is not to say that I've spent 20+ years doing nothing but wallowing in misery. This is true for all depressed people and probably a big reason that everyone says "I didn't know there was anything wrong". We're very good at hiding the bad times. Get a little quieter, act like we're too busy to socialize when really we're hiding out in a blanket fort eating comfort food and crying inexplicably. Above all else, keep our lips zipped about the very shameful act of not being happy and grateful about every positive part of our lives, and not appreciating the life lessons in every negative part of our lives.

This past year has been one of the worst. I say "one of", because I frankly have had so many really crappy years that it's impossible to choose one. As these cycles always go, life was looking up. Nothing terribly bad or dramatic had happened in some time. I had plans for the future. I had great friends. There are generally 2 to 3 years of rebuilding and gaining hope that life might actually work out, then the next disaster hits. This is not to say that there's no depression in that time...the depression is always there, hovering, making it take many times more effort to get through than it would for the average person, but at least I'll be coping. Then suddenly everything starts to go wrong. Things will spiral until that teeny flame of hope is nearly extinguished.

This year began with my job finally starting to really suit me and be truly enjoyable. This year began with plans to move to a new city, with more opportunity to go out and explore, and near family that I do not see nearly often enough. This year began with a compliment that made me almost regret these plans to move. This year began with a truly close friendship that was actually with someone I got to see face-to-face on a regular basis. Things were downright rosy.

A few months into the year, the rosy outlook disintegrated. Plans to move were halted due to mom's health. I lost the job, and the friend. The friend was actually my boss, and I've already heard the "you deserve it for becoming friends with your boss" judgement. Let me say that I fought against it for years, but we were eventually closer to equals than to boss/employee, despite my title and pay not reflecting that fact. She was the one who initiated the step into actual friendship. So while some may disapprove of my friendship choices, I must point out that "you made a stupid decision" is not a very helpful thing to say to someone who is clearly hurting.

As it turns out, losing the job and the friendship turned into losing basically all of the benefit of having worked there. I won't deny that I'm still bitter. I won't even deny that I still go in the bathroom of my current job on breaks and cry over the fact that I'm there instead of at the job I loved, despite the many aspects that made me grumble. Imagine spending 3 years of your life meeting people, building friendships and business relationships, gathering experience for your resume, and then having one person take it all away from you, like those 3 years never happened. Oh, except for the fact that you remember them and can't stop going over and over it all in your head.

Now imagine that simultaneously you have to contend with a family member's medical issues, and with removal of any hope for a major positive life change you'd been planning for well over a year. Sounds tough? Oh, and you've spent 2/3 of your life struggling with depression. Gee, it would be nice to go for coffee with a friend, or exchange some long e-mails to sort out some of your thoughts. What if no one is listening?

I had to tell myself every day for months to keep fighting, that this thing was not going to beat me, that I was not going to let an evil ex-friend ruin my life. Oh wait, I still loved her and didn't think of her as evil. I had to keep putting myself out there, trying to contact people, arrange dinners, nag when I was being ignored. I think most people find that to be a lot of effort, even when they feel good. Well, it didn't work. I am again not being overly dramatic. I sent e-mails, texts, and Facebook messages to dozens of people, giving them plenty of time to respond before sending followup messages. By plenty of time, I mean up to 2 weeks despite seeing that they were online daily. The vast majority of people have never responded, even though it has been 6+ months. Some I gave up on, some I continued to contact occasionally and still get no response. 

I sent postcards from vacation. I sent Christmas cards. I don't expect people who otherwise don't send cards to suddenly do so in response, but a quick "Hey, thanks for the card! How have you been?" on Facebook would be nice. I tried to make plans with people who repeatedly cancelled. I tried to make plans with people who were really busy, and didn't seem to understand that seeing them for 15 minutes in a place convenient for them would be enough. I called someone I haven't seen in years, but who I've always thought I could someday contact if I really needed to talk. He didn't call back.

People, if this is not a hope-extinguisher, I cannot tell you what is. It's one thing to contact a friend and have them not respond for several days. It's one thing to have plans cancelled once because something urgent came up. If you've never had this happen dozens and dozens of times over several months, I'm sure you probably don't understand how completely isolated, rejected, and unloved you would feel. If it happens enough, even the responses you do get stop helping, because you second-guess whether those people actually wanted to contact you. If so many people didn't, you're probably just that unlovable and the responses you get are out of pity. Eventually, you're not going to bother reaching out at all, because it hurts less than the inevitable silence.

Obviously, I'm still here. I'm not going to be one of those aforementioned suicides, mainly because I'm too stubborn to die. But I'm still hurting a lot, and most of it is about things I have not discussed with a single other person, because there was no one to discuss them with. Please, if someone is reaching out to you, answer. If you get busy and it takes a week, start with "I'm sorry I was busy". If you don't know what to say, stop worrying about it being the perfect response and just respond. The content truly doesn't matter. If a friend wants to make plans and all you have is the 15 minutes you're on break at work, see if she can meet you there. Or if you need to run errands, maybe she could keep you company while you do it. If you have been admiring someone, for whatever reason, pay him a compliment. No, you can't magically erase someone's problems or cure depression, but the fact that you cared may very well keep that person alive just one more day, and that one more day may be the difference between getting help and losing the battle.


Originally posted at http://stuffthatneedssaying.wordpress.com/2014/03/09/what-if-no-one-is-listening/. Please comment there.

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